During Pride Month and in the last few years generally, conversations about transgender issues have been gaining more and more mainstream media attention — for better and for worse. In some senses, it’s easy to lose sight of the human nature of this conversation, as it is too often reduced to snappy slogans and disingenuous “debates.”
Trans rights are human rights, because trans people are just that — people. As Dr. Olivia Danforth puts it, “Trans people are pretty unremarkable from anyone else, when we can be supported in society.”
Lately, we’ve seen people’s rights to access general things like bathrooms, medical care, and positions on sports teams debated and denied.
“We’ve seen these studies done to death,” says Danforth, a medical practitioner in Albany. “These issues have already been addressed by the medical community. In a lot of cases, the controversies really aren’t an effort to ‘debate’ – it’s an effort to hurt us.”
Despite conversations about “transness” so often being centered on injustice, it isn’t all about heartbreak, difficulty, and pain. The ability to come out for many means the ability to live in truth and find a community that understands you. In the words of Quinn B, a nonbinary trans person, “Queer joy is so important. Media doesn’t show the quiet moments of a queer found family eating a home-cooked meal together… I’m myself here, now, finally.”
Quinn is from Georgia, and she moved to Corvallis to find acceptance. “I was unable to come out to my family,” they said. “Thankfully I have incredibly supportive friends here in Corvallis.”
For Quinn, one of the most difficult aspects of their identity in relationships is pronouns. “Cisgender people (people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) are often confused if you tell them you use more than one set of pronouns,” she said. “People usually stick with one, especially if it ‘matches’ your presentation.” For Quinn, one of the most validating experiences is for their pronouns — she/her and they/them — to be used interchangeably.
Jalen Todd, a nonbinary trans man who works at The Advocate, also uses several sets of pronouns: he/him and they/them. He says that he has known he was queer since high school, and has come out several times in different ways. “I didn’t have a handle on the specifics at first,” Todd said. “Part of that was because I didn’t know, but the other part is that identities shift over time.”
Todd shared that they used the experience of gender euphoria, rather than gender dysphoria, to discover their identity. In search of gender euphoria Todd said he approached identity using the mantra of cleanliness influencer, Marie Condo: does this spark joy?
Gender euphoria is a somewhat recent notion in mainstream discussions of gender, but gender dysphoria has been studied and discussed for decades.
“We don’t necessarily come into the world knowing what our options are or knowing the ways we can interpret our feelings,” said Danforth. “Because of that, some people walk around for decades not making the connection, while suffering the downstream consequences of gender dysphoria.” Danforth says that was the case for her.
Early on in her understanding of her gender, Danforth struggled to find relatable representation. She said she always knew she wanted to be a medical practitioner, and she hardly saw any trans people in the field.
“I didn’t know, for much of my life, if you were allowed to be trans and be accepted to medical school.” Danforth only knew three trans people in the medical profession when she first came out as trans, but she says that representation really meant everything to her.
Once she came out to her family as a trans woman, Danforth says that she felt very supported. Her stepdad told her “this makes your life more complicated, but it doesn’t change how we feel about you at all.”
“That was exactly the right thing to say in that moment for me,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing that can become a traumatic moment for people. But outside of a traumatized mindset I can tell myself: these are the people who love me.”
Support is such an important part of feeling comfortable coming out of the closet for many people. Sloane Rittner shared that her family was not immediately accepting of her identity.
“I spent the first year of my transition trying to get them to see things my way,” she said. “But that’s just not a productive or helpful way of living your life.” She said after a year of back-and-forth with her parents, she cut herself out of the family.
Rittner says she now has a better relationship with her parents and her family than when she first came out, and they have come to see her for who she is. But she says that the experience made her realize that her parents weren’t the emotional safety net she thought they were. Instead she came to find safety, mimicking Quinn’s praise for queer found families, in other places.
Rittner shared the multitude of ways her transition has helped her.
“The power of transitioning,” she said, “is just immeasurable. There is not a quality or a corner of my life that has not improved vastly because of my transition.” She said for the first time in 25 years, she really sees herself when she looks in the mirror. “I don’t think people outside of this experience really understand what that means, or how that feels.”
Trans stories like these are so vital to the narratives of queer identities, and towards efforts of understanding and respecting one another. The four trans folks featured in this article are neighbors, friends, and community members here in Corvallis.
“We’re at a point in time,” Rittner said, “where we can either take several steps back and watch the lives of many people get very, very difficult for no real good reason. Or, we can press on the gas pedal and demand of our lawmakers to fight for everybody.”